BBC research on consumer attitudes to VR

Virtual Reality has been a hot topic for the last couple of years, but for many general consumers the jury is still very much out on how useful the platform is on a day-to-day basis outside the sphere of gaming. That’s why it’s interesting to dive into the BBC’s latest research on how the average consumer feels about VR.

The general consensus is that for VR to be successful it needs simple, intuitive and consistent interfaces, better curation and content discovery, and a higher supply of quality content which is ‘worth the effort’, i.e. not something that they can simply watch on TV instead. Below is a very broad recap:

  1. What did audiences think about VR before they’d actually tried it?
    • Most participants were broadly excited about the prospect, but mainly associated VR with gaming.
    • Some were worried about getting nauseous or looking silly in front of friends and family.
  2. How did participants react to their first experience?
    • Participants were ‘equally enthralled and delighted’.
    • Their initial – fairly low – expectations were far outstripped in terms of the quality of the experience.
  3. What content resonated?
    • Generally participants wanted to get straight to experiences designed to get your blood pumping, things like horror, rollercoasters and other extreme experiences that they wouldn’t normally do and which had some novelty value.
    • Leading the audience on a journey is crucial; experiences without a narrative or goal tended to fall flat – experiences with good story-telling or clear objectives worked well.
    • Presence and embodiment were also important as the viewer must feel ‘there’ to be immersed (e.g. a Cirque du Soleil experience where the characters made plenty of eye contact with the viewer).
    • Audiences need time to process and understand what is happening around them before being able to follow a narrative. When and where to draw their attention is also fundamentally important.
  4. What are the key challenges to overcome for VR to become mainstream?
    1. Many of the participants found the user interface to be tricky.
    2. Often the way to navigate around various VR environments differs from app to app.
    3. Difficulty discovering new content was a huge issue.
    4. Some users were concerned about being shut-off from what’s happening around them.
    5. Social norming – some were anxious about feeling stupid in front of friends.
    6. Physical space – often audiences weren’t in the right physical situation – sitting down on a sofa after a long day or lying in bed is not conducive to an experience which necessitates turning around and looking behind you.
    7. Proximity of headset – the headset needs to be conveniently available.
    8. Social interaction – for some audiences the insular / individual nature of the experience was off-putting.
    9. Often the headsets or the screens of the phone will be dirty, blurring or obscuring the images.
    10. The phone must be charged.
    11. If you haven’t used your headset for a while, you might forget how to use it.
    12. Many handsets overheated after 30 or so minutes of usage.
    13. Variable Wi-Fi quality leading to poor content resolutions and slow download speeds.

Check it out for yourself here.

Posted by Rob in Virtual Reality

Apple finally flexes its AR muscles

At last week’s Worldwide Developer Conference we finally got to see what Apple has up its sleeve when it comes to Augmented Reality. This is huge for the AR space as this basically lets developers create AR tools for any app, not just a walled garden like Facebook which we heard from in this regard recently.

This breakdown from Benedict Evans explains it better than I can:

“As was entirely predictable, Apple has added APIs for augmented reality. The phone uses the camera and motion sensors to do rock-solid positional reaching – you can tap on your screen to place a game on a table in front of you, walk around it, wave the phone around and all the action stays locked in place. This is hard for anyone without Apple’s integrated model to match. Facebook announced its own AR APIs in the spring, but they don’t have the hardware integration (nor a history of being a reliable development partner), and this is something that naturally belongs in the operating system. AR is the hot thing now, and the demos are cool, but this is also, of course, a natural building block for the mixed reality glasses that Apple is widely rumored to be working on for sale in a couple of years (equally, the Apple Watch and AirPods are probably hardware building blocks for this). When it comes, the first apps will already be there.”

Check out Venture Beat’s demo below:

Posted by Rob in Apple

Facebook & Snapchat are battling it out to change the way we visualize the world around us

Originally featured in the May 28th 2017 issue of Campaign Middle East

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. And that’s probably never been truer than it is today. It’s no surprise that people are communicating less and less through text these days – and more and more through visual means on mobile messaging apps and social media platforms in particular.

Instagram may have kick-started this trend a few years ago on social media, but Snapchat dragged it into the personal messaging space and other platforms have followed suit, so much so that now, rather than using digital imagery as a way of simply documenting and presenting our lives, we actively use visuals to communicate in the place of text. Snapchat has been the poster child of this movement over the last 3 years or so, tripling its daily active users to over 160 Million. Not content at being left behind, Facebook has copied pretty much every visual messaging feature that Snapchat has popularized on each of its four platforms – Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and Facebook itself.

While facial lenses and basic image editing have become a bit of a commodity on social messaging channels though, both platforms are trying to branch out from this to a more ‘augmented reality’-style future where users can actively overlay digital elements onto whatever they are looking at in real-time. Think Pokemon Go, although much more interactive and responsive to your actual surroundings. Snapchat describes it as “painting the world with 3D experiences”.

Snapchat may have been the catalyst for this trend, but it seems that Facebook are innovating at faster speed. At the company’s recent F8 event Mark Zuckerberg launched a host of new 3D camera effects, highlighting a renewed focus on creating a ‘camera platform’, an onus on the camera not simply being a tool used just to capture images, but to communicate too. He even went as far as to say that the camera needs to be more central than the text box in all of their apps.

This is a way for Facebook to fully insert itself into the real world, to become the link between your smartphone and everything you see around you. Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Zuckerberg expanded on this approach, “Facebook is so much about marrying the physical world with online. When you can make it so that you can intermix digital and physical parts of the world, that’s going to make a lot of our experiences better and our lives richer”.

Demoing these new 3D camera effects, one Facebook engineer pointed his phone at a table and a 3D propeller plane appeared on the screen, flying around a water bottle on the table top. Another used his phone’s camera to turn the room into a planetarium, with planets and stars spread out across the ceiling. Another took a normal photo of a face, then manipulated the expressions into a smile and then a frown.

Facebook also showed off various 3D scenes created entirely from a handful of 2D photos. The scenes had real depth to them, allowing viewers to tilt their head to see behind a bed in a room, or peer around a tree in a forest. Users could dim the lights in the image of a room, flood it with water, or even leave a digital object in the room that would still be there for someone else to discover at a later time.

The ultimate idea here is to turn the real world into an extension of Facebook itself. While Zuckerberg highlights examples like using Facebook’s camera to view pieces of digital art affixed to a wall, or to play a digital game overlaid on a table-top, you can see the long game here – dragging elements that would normally appear in your feed, for example, into the real world. But as well as pieces of content from your friends and family, surely this means ads too. As the traditional Facebook Newsfeed takes a back seat to messaging apps, this could be one way of keeping this type of content relevant going into the future, as well as expanding their ad inventory in the process.

But what will this mean for brands when consumers are living in an augmented world, constantly interacting with and visually manipulating their surroundings? And what happens when we are all wearing AR glasses or contact lenses 24/7? Visions of a Minority Report-esque world where ads bombard us at every turn spring to mind, but surely there must be another way. I guess we’ll have to just wait and see.

Posted by Rob in Augmented Reality, Campaign Magazine, Facebook, Snapchat

I love this Samsung Gear VR Ad

This post originally appeared on the Serviceplan Blog

VR seems to be in that awkward phase of being just about to hit the mainstream, but not quite being able to take that final step. The technology is very much out there in the wild but most people don’t seem to be wowed by, or are not aware of, most of the use cases just yet.

That’s why it’s refreshing to see this ad for the Samsung Gear VR that focuses on VR’s ability to let the viewer experience something rather than just watch a piece of content. It’s an almost John Lewis-like emotional branding concept that pitches the product as an enabler to see things from a different point of view. To immerse yourself in something deeper than is otherwise possible.

With this latest TV campaign, Samsung is continuing to do it’s fair share in dragging the concept of VR kicking and screaming into the mainstream. With 360 degree video available on multiple platforms now, many people have already experienced it, although there is a danger here of viewers associating basic 360 degree video with true VR, and being underwhelmed by the prospect. Samsung are trying to push the envelope here. The Korean giants have just announced a new controller for the Gear VR which will make it much more intuitive to use, and might even let them muscle in on the turf of the HTC Vive / Oculus Rift.

With over 5 million Gear VR headsets having been sold (or given away for free) to date, this makes it by far the biggest user base in the VR market. The Gear VR’s accessibility means that it is the most likely channel for many people to have their first proper VR experience, something that Samsung  seems to be very aware of. By running campaigns like this and basically promoting the general concept of VR, not just their own product, they are taking on the responsibility of raising awareness of the entire product category. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats. We’re very slowly reaching that VR tipping point. But reaching it none the same.

Posted by Rob in Virtual Reality

Chatbot 101 – Serviceplan Middle East talk

I gave this talk a few weeks back at the Serviceplan Middle East office on the rise of Chatbots in 2017 but am only getting around to putting it up here now because I’m super lazy.

With mobile messaging app usage overtaking regular social media usage as far back as 2015, coupled with the fact that people have basically stopped downloading standalone branded apps, the opportunity for Chatbots to provide an alternative communication channel has never been more obvious.

Since Facebook opened the floodgates to developers on it’s Messenger app platform last April, tens of thousands of Chatbots have been launched. Some haven’t lived up to expectations, but the future potential of Chatbots when paired with more concrete mobile functions like location-based services, push notifications and payments mean that our definition of what a Chatbot actually is could change drastically over the coming years.

Keep an eye out for WhatsApp inevitably getting in on the action at some stage over the next 12 months too.

Posted by Rob in Apps, Facebook, Mobile, WhatsApp